February 2012 has been a particularly hectic month in the Nairobi Nursery. The death of the 2 month old female elephant named Lemek, having been with us for just 8 days, came as a particularly bitter blow since, since, contrary to what we thought, the autopsy revealed nothing fundamentally wrong with any major organ. However, from the start this calf flatly refused to ingest her milk in the quantity essential to sustain life, despite the presence, example and in-put of all the other Nursery elephants and our best and most experienced Elephant Keeper, Mishak Nzimbi, who persevered with her day and night to try and coax her to feed as she should, a man who has worked miracles with many near dead orphans during the 28 years he has been with us. (Yet again, we must emphasize that force-feeding an elephant is simply not an option, since any milk that goes into the lungs during the inevitable struggle is certain death. Even baby elephants who weigh over 200 lbs. at birth, are difficult to restrain.) In view of the post-mortem result, we simply had to accept that little Lemek did not want to live following the loss of her elephant mother and had the determination to see this through, come what may. She starved herself to death, making her loss tragically poignant and particularly painful for all of us..
The 11th February saw the arrival of 15 month old “Sonje”, a female calf rescued from the Galana Conservancy abutting the Eastern boundary of Tsavo East National Park whose name means “lame” in the Mliangulu dialect. She arrived with a huge swelling on the thigh joint of the right hindleg, which our Vet believes could possibly develop into an abscess to expel a foreign body – possibly an arrowhead or bullet.. Two tell-tale scars indicate a possible point of entry. Time will tell. Sonje, like many of our orphans who come in after experiencing enormous physical trauma and the vulnerability of loneliness, was so relieved to have been treated with compassion and kindness that she tamed down rapidly and was soon out and about with her Nursery peers, even attending the noon mudbath within two days of arrival.
The very next day (12th and a Sunday!) 1 month old “Lumo” was brought in - an infant female rescued from the waters of a dam in the Taita Hills Sarova Conservancy, who, upon arrival, was found to already be suffering from life threatening diarrheoa which oral antibiotics and drip infused electrolytes failed to control. This was a huge sadness, because from the start this baby fed well and so wanted to live that we were cautiously optimistic about her chances of survival. But it was not to be. She died during the morning of the l8th, 6 days later.
The 21st brought an alert from the Manager of Offbeat Safaris Camp in Meru National Park who alerted us to the presence of a 2 year old elephant calf, who appeared to have been rendered virtually immobile by what appeared to be injured back legs. The young elephant had apparently been seen in the same area for more than a week, occasionally squatting or lying down, but otherwise unable to move. The Manager, Mr. Piers Winkworth, then drove to Park Headquarters to seek official authority to instigate the necessary rescue to save this baby a gruesome end, returning with some Rangers to help capture the calf, and this they did very professionally. It arrived at the Trust’s Elephant Nursery soon after dark - a young female just over 2 years of age whom we named “Murera” after the place where she was found. The sole of one back foot had obviously been pierced by a poacher’s concealed poisoned Spike Trap – a particularly cruel method of poaching not uncommon nowadays whereby poisoned steel spikes are concealed on an elephant trail. Added to this exceedingly painful foot, the forward movement of the other hand leg had been compromised probably as a result of internal ligament or tendon damage. She was severely emaciated, in great pain and understandably terribly fearful. When she collapsed the following day, and was on life support, we were able to clean the holes in the sole of her foot, and pack them with antibiotic ointment and green clay. The Vet later came to look at the other leg, concluding that it was unlikely to be broken, but that there was obvious ligament or tendon damage which only time might, or might not, heal. For “Murera”, who is a loving, trusting and obviously very grateful little elephant, it is going to be a very long haul back to full mobility, but we will obviously do our utmost to give her a second chance of life.
The arrival of any new elephant is welcomed with joy by all the Nursery elephants, who, upon emerging from their night quarters each morning, rush to the newcomer’s stable or Stockade en masse to greet him or her and to reassure and comfort. All the females are very protective of all newcomers, but especially little “Kithaka”, the cherished Nursery “baby”, who is jealously protected by Mutara, (the main Matriarch) whenever strange people are around. She gives them a careful “Once Over” before permitting access to the calf who basks in the undivided attention, but actually prefers Orwa, the other little Nursery bull, above all the girls.
Kainuk has hitherto been somewhat “pushy” due to post traumatic stress exacerbated by having to endure daily attention to the eye that threatened blindness, (which has now healed entirely). She is now playful and happy, even disciplining Ishaq-B for pushing gentle Orwa around in a display of dominance. Orwa is a very friendly and gentle soul, who always empathizes with grieving newcomers, and also enjoys entertaining the visitors during the one Mudwallow Open Hour every day. Due to Ishaq-B. He has chosen to consort more with the older orphans who come for the second sitting of milk at noon rather than the Younger set amongst whom Ishaq-B is a member. He has also been especially selected to keep Murera company, since she has been unable to move more than a few paces at a time due to her injured back legs. Consequently a strong bond has developed between these two elephants, so much so that Orwa has been moved to the Stockade adjoining that of Murera, since she was visibly depressed and upset every time he left her to go into his own night stable further away. Healing Murera’s partially paralysed back limb will be a very long haul, but the sole of the spiked back foot is improved rapidly and by month end, she could at least shuffle out of her Stockade and spend time with the other Nursery elephants, Orwa always by her side. She loves and is greedy for her milk, and having been de-wormed, her body condition is improving rapidly.
Tano, Sities and Naipoki have emerged the best football players of the month, eager to show off their skills to the mudbath visitors and any filming crews who are always eager to capture this event. There was added excitement for the mudbath guests when an old Buffalo Bull turned up and was on view abutting the forest during the orphans’ noon mudbath. Buffaloes are also often encountered as the orphans browse out in the bush every day, moving off slowly when they spot the Keepers after which the orphans enjoy bush-bashing as a deterrent to any return of what they view as an intruder!
The Rhinos:- Solio is a very mischievous character, who enjoys leading her Keepers a dance, rushing off at speed as soon as she emerges from her Stockade each morning and then hiding in a thicket to gloat over the fact that her Keepers are so inept at locating her! It must be puzzling to an animal whose life is governed by scent and chemistry, that humans are so deprived in this respect! She is growing apace, and is now a very happy and confident two year old, obviously sensing that she has been introduced through scent to the few resident rhinos and is now viewed as “belonging” in the community.
Maxwell is also contented and happy, displaying enormous joy whenever Solio returns to her Night Stockade. He then rushes around with tail erect, huffing and puffing and tossing his hay bedding in the air, circumventing his Enclosure at a gallop without any sign of hesitation. Our two Black Rhino orphans are a source of great joy to everyone who visits the Nairobi Elephant Nursery since Black Rhinos are becoming ever rarer due to the mythical demand for their horns in China and the Far East generally.